Just do it already.
I pick the envelope up and sit on my bed as I open it. The letter is written on heavy pink cardstock with my grandmother’s initials embossed on the top in shiny gold lettering. I think the paper was sprayed with some sort of perfume, because it smells like a woman.
Just so I don’t have to listen to Ashtyn nag me about it anymore, I unfold the letter and read it.
My dearest Derek,
I’m writing this letter to you with a heavy heart. I have just been diagnosed and have been reflecting upon the mistakes I’ve made in my life. There are things I need to make right before my imminent death. Since you are my one and only grandchild, it is imperative we meet after my treatment on June twentieth. It’s my last, dying wish. There are things that you don’t know—that you need to know—that you MUST know.
With Eternal Love,
Elizabeth Worthington (your grandmother)
Ashtyn was right . . . my grandmother is dying. She didn’t specify what she’s been diagnosed with. My mind is swirling with the possibilities. It’s got to be bad since she didn’t mention it. I wonder if it’s lung cancer, like my mom had. My mom was one of those few unlucky souls who got lung cancer even though she didn’t smoke a day in her life. Heredity and the environment were to blame, I guess.
Or maybe my grandmother has pancreatic cancer, which is a death sentence to anyone diagnosed with it.
Or some horrible, debilitating disease that’s too painful to mention.
Shit, now I can’t stop thinking about it.
Most teenagers would have probably been on a plane by now, rushing to their ailing granny’s side. But most teenagers don’t have Elizabeth Worthington as their grandmother, famous for thinking her social status is something to admire and aspire to. I’m sure she’s realized by now that her blood isn’t blue and no amount of money can buy health.
I read the letter two more times before placing it back in the envelope and telling myself to forget about it. I almost wish I hadn’t read the thing. It’s all Ashtyn’s fault. If it weren’t for her, I wouldn’t have to carry around guilt. I need to get my mind off it, or I’ll be thinking about it all night.
One person has the ability to keep my mind off that letter.
Ashtyn is in her bedroom on her laptop. Her room is pink with painted flowers running up and down the walls. She’s even got little hummingbird stuffed animals on her bed. Above her desk are posters of the Chicago Bears and an eight-by-ten picture of someone named Katie Calhoun wearing a Texas football uniform.
“This is the girliest room I’ve ever been in. Just being in here makes my testosterone levels plunge.”
She jerks her head up from the computer. “That’s a joke, right?”
“Kind of.” I clear my throat and lean back on her dresser. “I just wanted to tell you to be ready at seven tonight.”
“You lost the bet, remember?”
“Yeah, well, I don’t have to honor that bet because you said that the letter was an invitation to join the Olympic synchronized trampoline team. You lied.”
“That doesn’t make any difference. You said there was no Olympic synchronized trampoline team, and I bet you that there was. It’s cut and dried, Ashtyn. You lost. It’s time to pay up, and tonight’s the night.”
I’m sitting in my room, watching the clock. It’s six thirty. I wasn’t going to humor Derek and actually go on this nondate, but I don’t want him thinking I’m backing out of my end of the deal. Derek probably expects me to dress up, but he’ll realize pretty quickly that’s not the case.
I’m sure I’ve got bags under my eyes and look like crap because I didn’t sleep much last night, perfect for my nondate with Derek. Determined to go through with this, I stumble into the bathroom to get a hair tie so I can put my hair up . . . and come face-to-face with Derek. He’s leaning over the sink shaving . . . with a towel wrapped low around his waist.
“You didn’t lock the door.” I cover my eyes with my hand so I don’t have to look at his ridiculously hot half-naked body.
“Is that what you’re wearin’ tonight, Sugar Pie? Sweats and a T-shirt?”
I keep my hand over my eyes. “Yes.”
I hear him rinse his razor in the sink. “Sexy.”
“I’m not trying to be sexy.”
“Ashtyn, look at me.”
“Why?” I get a tingly sensation in the middle of my stomach because we’re so close and he’s only dressed in a towel that shows off his “V” and I’m trying to keep my distance even though I don’t want to. “You might want to pull up your towel. It’s falling off.”
“It’s not falling off unless you pull it off.”
“You wish.” I take my hand from my eyes. “I think you have a self-esteem problem.”
“Self-esteem problem?” He looks at me sideways, then chuckles. “Yeah, okay.”
“Derek,” I say in the most soft, feminine voice. “Admitting it is the first step to recovery.”
“I’m not sayin’ I don’t got problems, but self-esteem probably isn’t one of ’em. I’m glad you’re back to your old self. You wanna stand here and watch me shave, I’m cool with that. It’ll boost whatever self-esteem you seem to think I’m lacking.”
“I don’t want to watch you, Derek. I want a hair tie.” I reach around him and pull one out of the drawer. The smell of his freshly washed skin mixed with whatever cologne he’s wearing envelops my senses. I wish he hadn’t taken a shower as if he was getting ready for a real date. This isn’t a real date. It’s payment for losing a bet.
“Want to give me a hint where we’re going?” I ask him so I can prepare myself for the worst.
“Nope. Don’t you like surprises?”
I was surprised when my parents announced they were getting divorced. I was surprised when my mom packed up and left. I was surprised when Brandi disappeared with Nick. I look at him with a completely serious expression. “Not. At. All.”
“That’s too bad.” He raises a brow and smiles mischievously. “I love surprises.”
I close the door and walk back to my room to wait until exactly seven before going downstairs for the nondate.
My sister and Julian are playing some card game in the living room when I walk downstairs ten minutes later. Derek is probably in his room, contemplating the best way to make my life miserable. He doesn’t know how I feel about him . . . he can’t know how I feel about him. Hiding my true feelings will be so hard. I’m going to have to sabotage our night together as much as I can.
“Derek said you guys were going out,” Brandi says. “That’s so nice you two are getting along. It looks like you’re turning over a new leaf. I like that.”
I nod. “Uh-huh.”
My sister claps excitedly. “What are you gonna wear?”
I gesture to my sweats. “This.”
“Oh,” she says, confused that I’d pick something so casual. “Umm . . . do you want to wear something of mine?”
“Nope. This is perfectly fine. I’m comfy.”
Clearly she doesn’t agree that comfy is the best attire for going out on a Saturday night. “Try something else on. Maybe comfy isn’t the best idea, especially when a boy is taking you out.”
“It’s not a boy. It’s Derek,” I tell her.
“You ready?” a clean-shaven Derek says from behind me. He’s wearing jeans and a button-down shirt that I’ve never seen him wear before. And a pair of cowboy boots. His hair is still wet. He looks like he’s about to go on a real date. Time to make sure he knows that I’m not about to make this thing official.
I glance at my cell phone. “Okay, it’s five past seven. Where are we going and when are we going to be back?” I slip into my fuzzy UGG slippers, getting a chuckle from Derek and a gasp from my sister.
“I told you it’s a surprise.” He holds up the keys to his SUV. “Let’s roll.”
“I better be back by ten,” I tell him when we’re on the road to who-knows-where.
“You’re damn sexy with those sweats on,” he says sarcastically as he eyes my outfit.
“Thank you. Where are we going?”
“And your hair. It must’ve taken you forever to get it just right.”
It did take me a while to get my hair up in a messy bun, with strands sticking out every which way. “Where did you say we were going?”
“I didn’t.” He pulls onto the highway, following signs to Chicago. “Why do you play football?” he asks me after a while. “I know a bunch of girls who like it, but they either become groupies or cheerleaders. They don’t play it.”
“You don’t play anymore, so you won’t understand.”
At first I’m not going to tell him. But then when I look at his face all serious, I let him know the truth. “I always watched football with my dad. I’m sure you know by now he’s kinda . . . rough around the edges. He wasn’t always like that. We used to bond over football. He was the kicker for Fremont.”
“So you wanted to play to get his attention.”
I shrug. “It didn’t work, but that didn’t matter. It was something I was good at, something that could take my mind off whatever crap was happening in my real life. I bet you think that’s stupid.”
“I don’t think it’s stupid, Ashtyn. Not by a long shot.” After a while he adds, “Your dad’s missin’ out.”
He’s the first person to tell me that. I don’t answer, because my eyes well up and I can’t talk. I wanted my dad to watch me play and be proud that I was following in his footsteps. But I might as well be invisible.
Derek ends up parking the car at this place called Jumpin’ Jack.
“What are we doing here, Derek?”
We walk in the place. It’s a big gymnasium full of trampolines. A guy and girl wearing matching red leotards greet us at the entrance.
“Welcome to Jumpin’ Jack. I’m Jack and this is my partner, Gretchen. You two must be Derek and Ashtyn.”
Derek shakes Jumpin’ Jack’s hand. “Yep. Thanks for takin’ us on short notice.”
“Our pleasure. Ashtyn will follow Gretchen to the women’s locker room, while you’ll follow me to the men’s.”
I tap Derek’s back. I watched videos of synchronized trampo-lining. I have a dreaded feeling I’m not about to be a spectator. “Derek, please tell me we’re not doing what I think we’re doing.”
He winks at me. “My mother always said to be unpredictable and you’ll never get bored.”
I don’t want to be unpredictable. Unpredictable is reckless and dangerous. Unpredictable brings out the unknown. I thought Landon was predictable and he wasn’t. I know Derek is unpredictable. I don’t want to fall into his web, because it’ll only end in disaster.